Odd-year elections always have their own quirks and flavor, starting with the fact that they're so localized — and voter turnout is often extremely low. Which, of course, gives added weight to your vote.
Even though there's not a single race at the national level or even for state office on the ballots that went out by mail last week, Colorado does have two statewide issues, both important. From there, what's known in El Paso County as the 2013 Coordinated Election quickly moves closer to home, with local races and proposals for the area's school districts, some smaller municipalities and special districts.
The Independent has focused on the following issues and contested races:
Amendment 66 (education)
When you're asking for a $950 million tax increase, certain sectors of the population are going to be looking for weaknesses to probe. And there are a couple with Amendment 66, which would raise that money annually for Colorado K-through-12 education.
For one thing, Colorado's Legislature has more than $1 billion sitting in its State Education Fund, which could be put into schools and serve the same purpose as this proposal. For another, as we reported on our blog last week, it appears to be possible that school districts could use some of this money to help plug the hole in their pension funds, which would go against the spirit of the amendment.
In response to the former: That $1 billion would buy just one year of reform, which is not going to get the job done when you're talking about making systemic changes like shrinking class sizes, offering full-day kindergarten for all, and even extending school days or years.
In response to the latter: We do feel proponents should have been more up front about this possibility. However, the fact is that the districts are contractually obligated to meet these pension obligations anyway, and if it doesn't come from new money, it's going to come from budgets as they are now. Also, if you don't like the way your district is spending the money, you can vote the school board members out of office. In fact, 66 will allow for the creation of a website where it's easier than ever to track how money in a district is being spent.
When it comes down to it, though, the real issue is this: Many of our largest school districts, particularly those encompassing lower-income areas, need help. Colorado Springs School District 11, for one, is cramming 28 students into some kindergarten classes, and averaging 33.5 students in high school classes, to make ends meet. The situation is not unusual these days, but it is unfair to our kids.
And speaking of fairness, we believe the two-tiered tax rate, in which most Coloradans will see a relatively modest .37 percent increase in state income tax (from 4.63 percent to 5, or $133 per year for those at the median household income of $57,000), is a fundamentally decent fundraising mechanism.
Given that, we feel Amendment 66 is worth your support. Vote YES.
Proposition AA (retail marijuana)
This state issue was virtually mandated by the Amendment 64 passage last year, which instructed the Legislature to determine a structure for regulating and taxing the sale of retail marijuana, then sending the proposed tax to the ballot for voter approval. Proposition AA asks for a 15-percent excise tax "when unprocessed retail marijuana is first sold or transferred," and a 10 percent state sales tax.
Compared to the much higher taxes being imposed by Washington state (see CannaBiz, p. 98), the other state that legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, we believe that this amount is fair and will enable regulating marijuana like alcohol, which is one part of what voters endorsed last year. It also follows through on the promise to use tax money to help fund construction of public schools, including charter schools.
So while there'll be no RMJ sales in Colorado Springs or El Paso County, there are good reasons to support this proposition. Vote YES.
Colorado Springs School District 11 (three at-large positions): This race presents us with a wonderful problem: so many decent, committed candidates. Two are incumbents, another served five years previously, and the other three have sought public office before and have laudable motives. All six are capable and passionate. Three, however, stand out, in each case because they have gone extra miles for School District 11, serving on important committees or the board itself.
Jim Mason has been heavily involved with D-11 committees for five years, building a deep knowledge of the inner workings, and he was impressive enough to earn our endorsement when he nearly won a board seat in 2011. LuAnn Long followed a similar path of involvement, and has served admirably as a D-11 board member since 2009. Charlie Bobbitt served five years on the board (2006-11) before leaving to take a job at Wasson High School, and now wants to return with that added experience and perspective. Vote for Jim Mason, LuAnn Long and Charlie Bobbitt.
Academy School District 20 (three at-large positions): With five candidates in arguably the area's most financially healthy district, the choices are not easy, as in D-11. But we feel that current D-20 board president Linda Van Matre has done solid work in her first term, on top of her volunteer service prior to that, and deserves another term, as does incumbent Catherine Bullock. Our third choice is Larry Borland, who has much experience working in D-20 (he retired in June) and Douglas County schools, overseeing such areas as security and transportation.
Manitou Springs City Council, Ward Three: Manitou is blessed that two solid candidates seek to fill the sneakers of the diligent, hard-working Matt Carpenter, who moved to another part of Manitou and cannot seek re-election. Our choice is UCCS sociology instructor Nicole Nicoletta, who has been active in community affairs with Manitou Springs Forward and helped establish the Community Pantry in partnership with Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado.
We urge the other candidate, David Walker, who recently left JP Morgan as a vice president, to remain active in civic life and run again after he and his family have lived in Manitou longer than 18 months. Vote Nicole Nicoletta.
Manitou Springs Issue 2A (medical marijuana): With a huge turnout last November, Manitou Springs voters approved Amendment 64 (legalizing recreational marijuana) by better than a 2-to-1 margin. But Manitou's City Council wanted to be sure the residents had another chance to go along with retail sales inside the city limits. This measure, allowed by Amendment 64 and similar to Proposition AA, creates a 5 percent local excise/sales tax to fund oversight of sales inside city limits. It also authorizes the Manitou Council to increase or lower the rate, but not going higher than 10 percent, without an additional vote by Manitou citizens. Vote YES.